Machine Girl (2008)

There’s a Monty Python sketch called “Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days,” which starts when someone from a group of upperclass Brits innocently lobs a tennis ball at Michael Palin. The ball strikes him in the head, sending a geyser of blood into the air. He casts his tennis racket aside, which impales the woman next to him. Soon the entire group is missing limbs and writhing in puddles of blood.

I was reminded of this while watching Noboru Iguchi’s The Machine Girl. The plot, as such, is simple. Ami (Minase Yashiro) is the picture perfect Japanese school girl – cute, perky, kind, and serious. But when her kid brother Yu gets thrown off a building by a group of school bullies, she wants revenge. When she confronts the family of one of the kids, she is attacked by the parents. The father hurls chairs at her while the seemingly meek mom turns into a knife wielding banshee who fries Ami’s hand in tempura batter. Ami, however, proves to be a unexpectedly fierce fighter, and soon their kid is lacking a head and the banshee mom – in one of the grossest scenes I’ve seen in a long time – has a knife blade sticking out of her mouth. But that’s just for starters.

Ami learns that the leader of the bully group is the scion of the positively psychotic Hattori yakuza/ninja clan. The father is sort of guy who, as punishment for a minor error, forces a servant to eat sushi made from his own fingers. Ami’s first attempt at taking out the gangsters ends with her own amputation — Hattori lops off her arm. But thanks to the help of Miki (Asami), an ex-biker whose son was also murdered by the bullies, Ami’s stump gets outfitted with a Gatling gun. Soon she’s tracking down and blowing bloody holes into every single one of the bullies. Along the way, there are some ninja attacks, a drill bra, a flying guillotine and the letting of buckets and buckets of blood.

Clearly, Iguchi was aiming for the sort of unhinged lunacy of Takashi Miike‘s notorious Ichi the Killer, but the movie never captures that’s movie’s wit or fever-dream visual poetry. Instead, it’s labored and strangely dated, as if it should have been made in 2003. But Machine Girl is interesting because of what it lacks — sex. If you strip away all the weird Tetsuo: Ironman-like flesh and machine fetishization , the plot is not unlike many of the old pink eiga revenge thrillers like Sex and Fury — beautiful yet formidable woman wronged and gets revenge. Many of the conventions are almost identical. The heroine is forced to prove her mettle by facing down a band of rapist thugs. The heroine is captured by the baddies and tortured. But where as Reiko Ike in Sex merely has her flesh exposed, Ami has hers violated — but never exposed. Even in scenes where it would have made sense for Ami to be partially or fully stripped, she remains chastely clothed. Yet this isn’t prudity; the rampant spurting blood, limb slicing and general bodily mutilation border on the pornographic. Instead, this film is shaped by a different aesthetic than traditional pink eiga. Machine Girl is a post-human exploitation flick where blood, not semen, is the bodily fluid of currency.

Another thing interesting about this flick is the strong female characters. The women in movies like Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession and especially Tattooed Flower Vase are portrayed as being at the mercy of their own sexual desire, ready for whatever advances from men. Ichi the Killer treats women as sex objects and punchlines. But women here — between Ami, Miki, and Hattori’s drill bra wielding wife — are so powerful and dominant that the men almost disappear into the background. I wonder if this is tied to the filmmaker’s fetishization of damaged flesh and machines?

Anyway, here’s the Machine Girl‘s trailer.

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June 2008

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